Today’s Boxing and “The Sweet Science!
By: Coach K
(April 8th) Over the very recent months whether in the gym, in the Billy C chatroom or at the fights I have found myself in more and more conversations about boxing as the “sweet science.”
The dialogue usually begins with each participant giving their individual definition of what they see as the “sweet science.” The discussion most times quickly turns to the individuals vocalizing their favorite model. It didn’t take long to realize that most of the new, millennial boxing fans describe the “sweet science” as the best defensive fighter and most offering Floyd Mayweather Jr. as their example. While I firmly believe in the freedom of speech and the right of everyone to have an opinion, I also believe in the old adage, you know the one, about everyone having one and that includes myself.
So, in this case, I think it’s important for the crux of the conversation regarding boxing as the “sweet science” have its roots soundly grounded in some fact, rather than fan fair. Therefore, for the sake of this article and future “sweet science” debates I hope you would do just that and take into consideration the fact that defense is only one part of boxing, particularly when it comes to the sports scoring system.
As the rules apply it’s simple, punches landed is the number one factor in scoring with effective aggressiveness second and ring generalship in an if needed comes in third place.
Continuing on this line, you must face the fact that no matter how crafty or slick a fighter may be, no fight has ever been won on a slipped punch. Even when those “highly skilled defenseman” bob and weave, rock and roll, run, duck, back pedal, their way through a bout, they must land a punch to score, plainly rendering offense the other major ingredient in the synthesis of a fighter’s style and their version of the “sweet science.” I would suggest that it is the unique blend of a boxer’s offensive AND defensive attributes that should be studied when evaluating his or her representation of the “sweet science.”
For example, while Hall of Fame puncher-brawler Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini may well represent a great offensive fighter, but with no disrespect intended but he is leaps and bounds away from a defensive wizard and falls well short of a solid example of the “Sweet Science”.
On the other side of the coin, we have today’s TMZ fan favorite and self-proclaimed “Best Ever” Floyd Mayweather Jr. While he may be classified as a may defensive genius, it is his minimal risk, at times passive offense and boring style that leaves him without a career defining fight and well short of what “I” would describe as the “sweet science.” How much money you make doesn’t play here.
In an attempt, not to give away my age or bring up unfamiliar names in talks with today’s young or new fans, when it comes to naming my model of the “sweet science” I usually skip some of my favorites like Benny Leonard, Ray Robinson, Barney Ross and the well-balanced Gene Tunney and go to a name more current and likely to be readily recognized and whole heartedly advocate two division world champion Vasyl “High Tech” Lomachenko. The most constructive way to tell you why is just to tell you a little about him.
Vasyl Lomachenko is professional boxer born February 17th, 1988, in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine. His father a former amateur fighter and his mother a gymnast and trainer it was shortly after coming home from the hospital that Vasyl would don his first pair of boxing gloves and barely four short years later he would commence his formal boxing training under the close tutelage of his father Anatoly.
Demonstrating a deep aptitude for the sport at an early age, Vasyl was pulled out boxing by his trainer / father around age nine and placed in dance school. While training in dance and playing ice hockey, two sports requiring extreme footwork, very focused even as a youth Lomachenko developed a stronger, faster and more powerful level of balance, flexibility and agility along with a true sense of creativity. Returning to boxing Vasyl would develop many unique training regiments parlaying those gains into increased endurance, speed, timing, accuracy and dramatic lateral foot movement, combining it all with an ice hockey styled aggressive edge resuming his assault on the Ukrainian National Boxing Team and the 2008 Olympics at age thirteen. Vasyl has claimed numerous times that if his father had not been a boxing coach he probably would have chosen to play professional ice hockey.
Transitioning those skills to the ring, competing in the featherweight and lightweight divisions the hardworking, entertaining heavy handed pro styled crowd-pleaser quickly turned his superior skills and creativity into a Silver Medal at the 2007 World Championships, consecutive Gold Medals at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships and consecutive Golds at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, becoming one of the most highly rated, if not the top ranked amateur boxer of all time compiling an amateur record of 396-1, avenging his only loss to Albert Selimov, twice.
Leaving the amateurs to enter boxing’s controversial limbo state known as the World Series of Boxing Lomachenko unbeaten fighting as a lightweight in six bouts 2012-13 Lomachenko turning pro July 2013 signing with Bob Arum’s, Top Rank Boxing.
Rather than follow the well-established career buildup trek of several calculated transition fights, the twenty-five-year-old Vasyl would go “Hi Tech” October 12th, 2013, making his pro debut in a 10-round bout claiming the WBO International Featherweight title stopping Mexican veteran Jose Luis Ramirez, 25-3 in four rounds.
It would be in his second pro bout March 1st, 2014 the skilled Ukrainian would stumble dropping a controversial, closely contested WBO Featherweight title challenge split decision to an above the weight, premier rule bender and low blow king, fifty-five fight veteran Orlando “Siri” Salido.
Four months later, June 22nd in just his third official professional bout, Lomachenko would lay claim to vacant World Boxing Organization Featherweight Title pressuring and landing well timed combinations and drilling body shots out pointing Capitol Heights, Maryland’s mobile but less accurate previously unbeaten Gary Russell Jr. Not a small detail when you compare it to Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s winning his first title in his eighteenth bout against Genaro Hernandez who had lost to Oscar de La Hoya eight fights earlier. Why mentioned it? As a comparison to todays protected risk versus reward opponent selection mentality, since it would take the then “Pretty Boy” almost ten years to finally fight the four year older now on the slide “Golden Boy”.
Making his first title defense in just his fourth pro bout Lomachenko dropped Thailand mandatory challenger Suriya Tatakhun (Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo) in round four enroute to a to a resounding 120-107 times three unanimous decision victory.
On May 2nd, 2015, the Ukrainian star made his second successful title defense, out classing Puerto Rico’s Gamalier Rodriguez ripping speedy combinations to the body and head, turning the thirty-fight veteran into heavy power shots, flooring his beaten challenger twice finally forcing referee Robert Byrd to wave it over in round nine.
It would be November 7th, 2015, in bout number six, while making his third title defense against Mexico’s Romulo Koasicha, we would see Lomachenko the dancer. Holding what can only be described as “Hi Tech” target practice, Lomachenko landing large bunches of punches would finally put his out classed foe out of his misery a drilling body shot, finally ending the high skills exhibition in round ten.
June 11th, 2016, taking a step up in weight and opposition putting on a brilliant display of footwork and angle punching Lomachenko would claim the WBO World Super Featherweight strap out-landing the experienced Roman 'Rocky' Martinez three to one, before dropping the three-time world champion cold with a tight a left uppercut, right hook combination in round five.
In his last outing, this past November 16th the 5’6” Lomachenko fighting giving away eight inches in ” reach continuing to accelerate his level of opposition out boxing and out punching Jamaica’s bigger “Axe Man” Nicholas Walters, 26-0-1, 21Ko’s picking his spots angling his way past the “Axe Man’s” 73” reach, hurting him several times through the first six rounds thoroughly convincing the previously unbeaten power puncher he had taken enough punishment retiring the frustrated “Axe Man” after round six.
Just this weekend Saturday, April 8th, Lomachenko scored a ninth round dismantling of Camden, New Jersey’s, Jason “El Canito” Sosa, at the MGM National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Maryland. The 29-year-old Sosa, 20-1-4, 15Ko’s unbeaten in his last twenty fights holds a twelve-round draw with the now once beaten “Axe Man”.
On top of that superlative amateur career it is through these eight challenging fights that Lomachenko has established he is a rare, dying breed and the perfect example of the “Sweet Science.”
The crafty, agile ring general comes with a GPS like awareness and a laser range finding jab. He has shown he is a polished fighter setting himself right in the mix with history’s best ring generals. It’s not just the decisive lateral movement, the precision angling or the small windowed defense, Lomachenko is a technically sound boxer / puncher, armed with a full arsenal, possessing and demonstrating all the classic techniques big and small, offensive and defensive. He is always well conditioned and is physically and mentally relaxed under fire, forever transforming his classic / innovative style repeatedly surpassing his earlier forecasted potential as a comprehensive technician and sagacious pro.
Exhibiting the footwork rivaling a Johnny Dundee, Barney Ross and Benny Leonard, Lomachenko excels with neutralizing side steps and pivots allowing his most defensive position to simultaneously
be his most dangerous. His continuous changing levels, turning of feints into blistering combinations like a Bruce Lee shadow, it is his no run, no hide “sweet science” offensive defense that makes him shine.
As a response to those critics who are caught up in the “Best Ever” Mayweather PC, social media storm defining the “sweet science” in track and field event terms, Lomachenko is a master at cutting off the ring. The next time you see him in action pay close attention to his footwork, it’s the key to what allows the Ukrainian star to remain simultaneously out of harm's way but still in the perfect position to strike.
Holding the pin point punching accuracy of a Joe Louis, the chest blasting, midsection solar plexus punching, oil drilling fashioned left hook to the liver, punishing body attack of Alexis Arguello, Lomachenko’s body work is second to none today.
Putting together all the precision foot work, calculated feinting, speed and power together with an inexhaustible work rate and superior skill set, Lomachenko adding new and innovated flairs to his solid classic style, “Hi Tech” a southpaw version of Willie Pep.
As he continues to modernize some classic skills Lomachenko hasn’t stepped too far from some of the old-time greats. While showcasing the inside chicanery of a Henry Armstrong he quickly can adjust and emulating a more current day “Hitman” Ricky Hatton when appearing to engage in mutual grappling the Ukrainian technician cleverly uses it like a wrestling feint initiating counterfeit clinches setting up his initial punching range or to open the way to a quick step or angle widening the options of his fully loaded punishing tool set.
Maybe it’s an undiagnosed dissociative identity disorder, or whatever you want to call it, it a treat to see Lomachenko the childhood dancer / hockey player morph into Lomanchenko the boxer and alternate between Loma the “Hi Tech” General to Loma the “Violent Barbarian”.
As there is no question his lengthy amateur experience has helped paint this masterpiece, you can’t overlook the intangibles. When you witness the volatile combination of desire, heart, aggressiveness, smarts, superior athleticism, a virtuous work ethic mixed together with all the skill you can’t help but realize that’s what makes Lomachenko the complete package.
When considering Lomachenko, as “the whole package” and his loss to Salido you must give that fight an open-minded evaluation. Especially when you take into consideration that the great Alexis Arguello lost his fourth and fifth fights, the “Filipino Flash” Nonito Donaire lost his second pro bout, “The Matador” Ricardo Mayorga, Juan Manuel Marquez and “The Executioner” Bernard Hopkins all lost their first pro bouts and one of boxing’s top ten, best-ever, Henry Armstrong losing 3 of first four was stopped in his pro debut, it’s easy to see the Salido fight as an anomaly or “the exception that proves the rule.”
So now you that you have my pick for today’s best example of the “sweet science” when you add in the second most mentioned name on “sweet science” enthusiast lips and everyone-else’s mind the fight everyone wants is a “Hi Tech” match against unbeaten Cuban boxing star Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux.
The slick fighting southpaw Rigondeaux, another fighter commonly named fighter in “sweet science” conversations comes with an impressive amateur career of his own. Winning Gold at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics compiling a record of 463-12 in the amateur ranks the 36-year-old, much avoided defensive virtuoso, holding pro victories over Roberto Marroquin, Nonito Donaire, Joseph Agbeko and Hisashi Amagasa makes a “Hi Tech” vs “The Jackal” a potential all hands-on deck “Sweet Science” match-up.